The Beauty of Bridge-Building

This video of 14th c. bridge-building technique scratches all my curiosities.

This video surfaced the other day, and has unfolded in my imagination like a lotus flower ever since. It shows in time-lapse animation the process of constructing a bridge in 14th century Europe. Mesmerizing to watch; profound the imaginative ripples it created. More below:

For as long as I can remember, passing over bridges has brought this impossible combination of awe and curiosity. The curves, the bulk, the ingenuity and labor. The magic of charting that course over water. And seeing this has scratched all the curiosity itches.

And it got me thinking about the two-fold metaphor of bridge-building: on the one hand, the craft of building bridges between two disparate factions; on the other, the art of developing oneself from one stage to the next, in growth, skills, or evolution of any kind.

And seeing this process in the video above makes it so clear. The art and craft of bridge-building, in either sense of the concept, consists of the following steps:

  1. Build a foundation or frame over the unknown depths. This could be a system of thought, a framework, or a “view” on all things.

  2. Use that frame to then drain the swamp. Disabuse yourself of assumptions, old biases and hangups.

  3. Etch in stone into the ground everything that comes from that clearing.

  4. Pause, look forward, and do it again.

  5. Make a lasting, artful connection from each clearing and grounding to the next.

  6. Invite others to walk the path.

    “Why do people resist [engines, bridges, and cities] so? They are symbols and products of the imagination, which is the force that ensures justice and historical momentum in an imperfect world, because without imagination we would not have the wherewithal to challenge certainty, and we could never rise above ourselves.” (Mark Helprin, Winter’s Tale)